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Lamar Jackson headlines Combine players to watch


Welcome to #DraftSZN. If you've never ventured down this perilous scouting path with us before, let me offer you this primer on how best to navigate the often-torturous stretch ending at the NFL Draft. Anyway, let's set this whole thing up, shall we?

Plenty of people will refer to the next few weeks as a "job interview" for the prospects looking to become the NFL (and fantasy) stars of the future. It's not an inaccurate analogy. It's just tired. Sorta like teams or players tweeting #BusinessTrip every time they venture near an airstrip.

I prefer to think of this as a matriculation -- moving from college to professional football life. The Draft is graduation (without Vitamin C's overwrought, yearbook-scrawl lyrics) while the Combine is more like the prom. Everyone tries to look their finest and show off their best moves. Some people even show up in a limousine.

Regardless, there are a whole lot of players, scouts and coaches showing up in Indianapolis looking to ... well, okay, the analogy kind of breaks down here. I'm still workshopping this thing. Leave me alone. Let's talk a few prospects to watch. Be aware that there are some top prospects whose fates seems fairly set, so they won't appear here. But there is still plenty of intrigue to be found at Lucas Oil Stadium. And none of it involves Josh McDaniels.


Josh Allen, Wyoming: The quarterback discussion so far this draft season is like a giant rap battle in a warehouse. The Allen crew is spitting Supa Hot Fire -- no one seems to think these bars are hot except other members of the Allen camp. They're a small but determined bunch. As for the player himself, the biggest question is how accurate he can be. The Wyoming man certainly looks the part. NFL people will want to know if he can play the part.

Lamar Jackson, Louisville: The biggest controversy among this year's quarterback prospects is which one is more controversial -- Jackson or Josh Allen. Despite his collegiate production and the not-insignificant issue of winning the Heisman Trophy, Jackson still needs to convince some that he can be an NFL quarterback. It would be a shock if he wasn't the most all-around athletic QB in Indy this week but Jackson's biggest challenge will be wowing NFL teams with his ability to recognize and diagram schemes.

Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma: Congratulations Baker Mayfield on being this year's "is he tall enough to be an NFL quarterback?" prospect. The bad news for him is that he's not going to get any taller by the end of the week. The good news is that he'll have a chance to erase some of the negative impressions spread about him during interviews with the individual teams. It also wouldn't hurt for Mayfield to show well in some of the drills to alleviate some concerns about his agility and foot quickness.

Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State: Rudolph has the type of size and arm strength that NFL people are willing to punch each other in the face to acquire. While plenty of people believe Rudolph has the arm talent to get the ball anywhere, there are concerns about his mechanics and footwork. A foot injury kept him from showing any potential progress at the Senior Bowl. Indy provides a new opportunity.

Running backs

Nick Chubb, Georgia: Once upon a time, Chubb was the marquee back in the Georgia backfield. Nowadays, he finds himself sharing the draft spotlight with teammate Sony Michel. Part of the reason stems from Chubb's recovery from a major knee injury in 2015. Since returning to the field in 2016, observers haven't seen the same level of explosion and agility. The player that college football fans witnessed at the start of his career had the potential to be an NFL star. The agility drills at the Combine could be a good way for Chubb to remind some of those same observers of who he used to be.

Sony Michel, Georgia: Michel might be the Bulldog getting the lion's share of the attention but he's not without his question marks heading to Indianapolis. You don't have to watch his tape very long to see Michel flash his speed. However, teams will be interested to see if he has the type of agility to consistently make people miss at the next level. Michel would also do well to reinforce his pass-catching abilities after hauling in just nine receptions during his final season in Athens.

Rashaad Penny, San Diego State: For the second straight season, the nation's leading rusher attended classes in America's Finest City (patent pending). For the second straight year, we're not talking about that player among the upper echelon of running backs in the draft class. It made some sense when referring to 5-foot-6, 176-pound Donnel Pumphrey. But at 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds, Penny is a different back. Nonetheless, he'll need to wow scouts with his long speed and will need to convince teams that he's at least competent as a pass-catcher in order to improve his draft stock.

Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State: Ballage is a physical specimen and an athletic eye-opener. From that standpoint, there's talk that he could be one of the surprise stars of the Combine. What scouts will need to see is, despite his athletic profile, can he be a productive running back? His work at the Senior Bowl was a positive step. He'll need to do more in Indy.

Wide receivers

Christian Kirk, Texas A&M: This year's draft is short on transformational receiving prospects. But it does have a lot of players who could turn out to be solid NFL contributors. Enter Christian Kirk, who projects as a sure-handed slot receiver as a pro but will need to sell evaluators on his short-area quickness, ability to separate from defenders and overall catch radius. The world could have a better idea about Kirk's talents in two of those three categories by the end of the week.

Deon Cain, Clemson: The recent lineage of Clemson receivers has cast a big shadow over Cain (we're still giving Mike Williams time). Fortunately he gets to go to the Combine on his own merit. Cain's overall athletic profile should look pretty good and his ability to high-point footballs comes through on tape. What should ideally come through in Indianapolis is Cain's ability to eliminate some of the focus drops that plagued him during the season.

Courtland Sutton, SMU: Sutton certainly has the physical build to succeed as an NFL receiver (6-foot-4, 218 pounds) and used some basketball-type skills (he spent one season on the Mustangs' basketball roster) to help him produce in college. The question for Sutton will be whether the rest of his receiver toolbox is well-enough equipped to have the same type of impact as a pro. The 40 and agility drills could be key to Sutton's ultimate draft value.

James Washington, Oklahoma State: In the weeks since #DraftSZN officially began, Washington has started moving up draft boards. Ignore the part about a receiver who's built like a running back and wearing a running back's number. It's confusing but also irrelevant. What will be relevant is Washington's strength to fight off press coverage and the quickness to escape defenders in short areas.

Tight ends

Mike Gesicki, Penn State: Add Gesicki to the list of tight ends who register as legitimate offensive weapons while leaving a few things to be desired in the run game. The Combine won't be a place where Gesicki can change anyone's mind about the latter issue but his bench press could possibly alleviate some concerns about his overall strength.

Hayden Hurst, South Carolina: Hurst was a grown man playing among boys in college. Literally. He'll be 25 years old when the 2018 NFL season begins. He can't turn back time but he can try to convince scouts that he hasn't already hit his athletic and football ceiling. After having a number of his routes jumped by defenders in college, Hurst will need to show that he can shake underneath coverage at the next level.

Dallas Goedert, South Dakota St.: Goedert was a consistent pass-catching threat all over the field during his time in Brookings and that ability will be coveted by NFL teams. However, fair or not, there will always be questions about a player who succeeded at a lower level of college football and how that will translate to the NFL. Goedert might not be able to fully answer that question until he lines up against NFL players. But a strong showing in the measurable drills could put some minds at ease.

Marcas Grant is a fantasy editor for and a man who is dismayed that it's going to be colder in Los Angeles than Denver later this week. He's going to remember this and remind you all of it the next time you mock Californians for wearing scarves in 70-degree weather. Tweet him your weather complaints on Twitter @marcasg. If you read all of that, congrats. Follow him on Instagram and Snapchat (marcasg9).


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